“Can you see that?”
My friend turned around in his chair. “See what?”
We were sitting in a coffee shop on a Saturday morning. I was looking at a woman who was dressed like she was on her way to a medieval festival: long grey robe, leaves placed strategically in her hair, and holding a staff. Even before I had asked, I knew my friend couldn’t see her.
“What am I looking for?”
“Nothing. Never mind.”
“Are you seeing things again?”
“That sounded pretty defensive. If you are, we can get you some help. Better to catch it early.”
“I”m not hallucinating. Just forget it.”
The woman walked over to our table and sat in an empty chair without moving it. She wore a sad, wistful smile but said nothing, though she continued to stare at me. Making an effort to ignore her, I focused on my friend.
“Look, no judgment. I just want to support you. If you’re having problems again, I will help, but you have to trust me.”
“I thought I saw something on that table. I realized it was the way the light reflected off of it. There is nothing to worry about; I’m fine. Can we drop it now?” I could still see the woman out of the corner of my eye.
“Okay, okay.” My friend threw up his hands defensively. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. Just don’t need everyone always thinking of me in terms of the lowest point in my life. I had a breakdown; it’s not the whole of who I am.”
“You’re right. I am sorry. I will try to do better.”
The woman reached out and touched my arm. “You know I’m real, right?”
I ignored her and continued to give my friend all of my attention. “Should we get going?”
He checked his watch. “Soon. Wait here, will you? I’m going to run to the restroom.”
I tried to think of some reason to stop him, but nothing came to mind. As soon as he was out of sight, the woman spoke again.
“Now we can talk.”
Looking in any direction but hers, I said nothing.
“I need your help. No one else can see or hear me. There’s nowhere else I can turn. Please.”
I desperately did not want to sink back into madness, and I knew that if I acknowledged her at all, I would be starting down a dangerous path. I had to ignore her, even as her pleas grew more urgent.
“I need you to do something for me. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, or if there was any other way. I need to get a message to someone. You’re the only person who I can reach.”
Tuning out this new “voice” in my head was getting increasingly difficult. I found myself tapping my fingers impatiently on the table.
“I don’t think I have anything of value to give you, but I’m begging you to help me. My friend… She doesn’t know the danger she is in. I know it’s cliché, but this really is a life or death situation.”
“Finally,” I muttered when I saw my friend returning.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
“Definitely.” Relieved to finally get away from this woman only I could see, I stood up and followed him to the door. Before walking out, I stole a glance back and saw the woman still sitting at the table. That was my only mistake, but it was plenty.
“Hey,” I said to my friend. “I just remembered something I have to take care of. I’ll catch up to you later?”
“Are you sure?” Suspicion was evident in his voice.
“Yeah. I’ll talk to you later.”
I made sure he walked away before going back inside and sitting down at the table.
“Okay. What’s the message? Who is it for?”